As one of the original appointees to the Peace and Justice Commission when it was established in 1986, I welcome the opportunity to explain and define the purpose, goals and most importantly of all, the mandate of the commission. This is in response to a recent commentary in the July 12 issue of the Daily Planet titled “Opposed to the Department of Peace” by Johnathan Wornick, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s appointee to the commission.
The article misrepresents the mandate of the Peace and Justice Commission in a way that supports unstated political agendas currently in play in Berkeley—at least one of which Councilmember Wozniak has publicly supported.
The Peace and Justice was created by City Ordinance No. 5705 on Feb. 18, 1986. The Findings Section includes these statements: “(e) Peace is inseparable from justice; (g) Initiatives are needed to reverse the drift toward war and to remove the causes of war” [emphasis added].
Section 3 defines Peace and Justice as “the goal of creating a world community in which the relations between people are based on equality, respect for human rights, and the abhorrence of exploitation and all forms of oppression.”
Section 7 describes the various functions of the Peace and Justice Commission:
“(a) Advise the Berkeley City Council and the Berkeley Unified School Board on all matters relating to the City of Berkeley’s role in issues of peace and social justice, including, but not limited to the issues of ending the arms race, abolishing nuclear weapons, support for human rights and self-determination throughout the world, and the reallocation of our national resources so that money now spent on war and the preparation for war is spent on fulfilling human needs and the promotion of peace.”
“(d) Hold public hearings and forums ...”
“(h) Act as a liaison between community groups organizing around issues of peace and justice and city government ...”
“(l) Perform other functions and duties as may be directed by the City Council or prescribed or authorized by any ordinance of the city. ...”
Our commission is only one of many, but all share a deep and integral part of the body politic of the City of Berkeley and that is the concept of “participatory democracy.” This proud and historic tradition dates backs hundreds of years in our nation’s history to the New England town hall meetings. It was codified in modern times by the issuance, in 1965 of the “Port Huron Statement: Agenda for a Generation.” The following language, adopted in this document, provided the philosophical background for the evolution of the commission system in this and many other cities by wedding tradition with the modern: “As a social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation governed by two central aims; that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of life; that society be organized to encourage independence and provide the media for their common participation.”
At the heart of the concept of participatory democracy is that we all, in whatever way possible, become involved—i.e. think globally, act locally—and that decision-making of basic social consequences be carried out by public grouping. This brief history/philosophy lesson explains why the commission system enjoys the strong support it does in our city, and how this is reflected in ordinance No. 5705.
Commissioners should serve in areas that interest them most. Wornick, the author of the July 12 piece, indicates that rather than “wasting their time ... writing resolutions on national and international issues” (as mandated in the Peace and Justice Commission’s enabling statute), he believes local officials should focus on “working hard to improve our schools, keep fire stations open, fix our roads, and bring jobs to our beloved City of Berkeley.” There are several commissions charged with addressing these very issues. Some of them currently have vacancies, and would welcome a new appointee who feels strongly about such issues.
Berkeley is an international city. It has a university of worldwide acclaim with student from over 110 countries. We are the home to hundreds of non-governmental organizations. If we as a commission or a city were to ignore the issues we are charged with addressing, then we would be slamming the door on hundreds of our citizens and groups who have raised issues and/or brought resolutions to our commission.
This we cannot do, because of our mandate, and we will not do.
National and international issues are directly relevant to the City of Berkeley. Does $1.4 billion spent per week on the war in Iraq not impact our city’s finances? Would not an anti-choice Supreme Court nominee severely and negatively impact us here?
If commissions were not to address national and international issues, then it would be necessary to oppose, say, a resolution from the Labor Commission opposing cruel, unhealthy, unsafe and degrading conditions of workers employed by U.S. corporations in another country; or a resolution from the Commission on Women opposing gang rape as a weapon of war, or the practice of genital mutilation; or a resolution from the Environmental Commission criticizing Chevron for polluting the land, the water and the lives of the people living in the Nigerian delta; or a resolution form the Youth Commission in opposition to child labor, or to child soldiers.
One of the unstated political agendas served by such arguments is reflected in Councilmember Wozniak’s position on the commission system. In numerous public pronouncements and proposals, Mr. Wozniak has made clear his opposition to the commission system. If he can’t destroy it, he at least hopes to weaken it.
Finally, I want to bring closure to two other issues raised in the op-ed piece. First, in the history of the Peace and Justice Commission, many if not most of the resolutions we worked on were presented to us by outside sources: the City Council, city agencies and departments, individuals, non-governmental organizations, sister cities and community-based groups.
Second, regarding costs, analysis after analysis have shown that the 40-odd commissions in this city not only cost an infinitesimal amount of money, but in fact save the city big-time dollars by doing much of the background work and research for the City Council. We commissioners are volunteers, working for free, out of love for our city.
The Department of Peace resolution that has recently attracted so much attention enjoys broad support in Berkeley (and was endorsed overwhelmingly by the City Council). Local citizens and organizations also bring more-controversial issues to the commission, which is required by its mandate to consider their proposals and concerns.
Whether the issues are popular or contentious, the commission must fulfill its legislated mandate. It is not our job to silence or ignore anyone raising issues that fall under our jurisdiction. It is our duty to be open as a political body to those who wish to debate and make recommendations on issues of justice and world peace.
The Peace and Justice Commission generally meets the first Monday of each month (except August) at 7 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center, Martin Luther King Way at Hearst Street. I encourage all Berkeley residents to express their views to the commission during its public comment period and to the City Council and School Board members who have appointed us.
Michael Sherman is a member of the Peace and Justice Commission and a former chairperson of the commission.